On 15 March we held our annual South West Conference in the beautiful setting of Hannah’s at Seale Hayne. We were delighted to welcome current and prospective employers as well as candidates, parents and support workers. During the day, guests heard how WorkFit is working with employers across the region to create successful placements for our candidates and about the benefits to employers in joining the programme.
The event opened with an overview from South West Employment Development Officer Paul Harrison. He detailed the function of the website as a one stop shop for employers and the importance of registering. Paul also talked about his role as an EDO, providing assessments and training for employers. He also highlighted the benefits for employers in recruiting through WorkFit highlighting the 89% sustainability rate for WorkFit placements since 2012.
Employment Liaison Officer Jonathan Grew gave a parent’s perspective. Jonathan joined the team in January and provides WorkFit services in the Swindon area. He has a unique viewpoint as his son Jeremy gained a position through the programme. Jonathan outlined the challenges Jeremy has faced including health issues and unsuccessful work placements with employers where no WorkFit awareness training was provided. Jonathan then explained how Jeremy had successfully overcome these difficulties to secure a role, through WorkFit, with Wiltshire Police. Jonathan and his family are understandably very proud of Jeremy’s story which demonstrates the importance of specific Down’s syndrome awareness training in unlocking the potential of people with Down’s syndrome in the workplace.
Roy Perrett from Wiltshire Police spoke about overcoming barriers to disability in the workplace. He gave an overview of the cultural change the force has been through since hiring WorkFit candidate Luke. He said he first met Luke at a WorkFit coffee morning and reminisced of the football banter they shared. Roy had offered Luke an informal interview and job trial, appreciating Luke’s dream of having paid employment to secure his financial independence. Roy highlighted the importance of the WorkFit training in helping the force improve its understanding and support for Luke at work.
Roy then celebrated Luke’s achievement by showing the photos taken of him being offered a permanent, paid job…a day that was a source of great pride to Luke, his family and his employer.
Roy shared some key messages about the benefits of WorkFit to employers. He said that the programme brings learning and understanding, with there being significant advantages in having a diverse workforce. He told the audience that “WorkFit have become someone we can rely upon for support and guidance”. He quoted Mike Veale, former Chief Constable of the force, as saying: “Before I met Luke, I thought I already understood equality. He had left an indelible mark on me and overcome pre-conceptions. Luke is an incredible special person and everyone can make a difference”. Roy’s final message was a call to action, encouraging people to consider what they can do to make a difference to society.
WorkFit candidate Hetti and her buddy Gritt from Dunelm gave a presentation on the importance of the in-work buddy system and candidate work trials. Hetti successfully completed her work experience for Dunelm in the coffee shop at her local store and has now been given a paid contract. She brought tears to the eyes of many by discussing her childhood with Down’s syndrome and was overwhelmed herself with pride and emotion. Gritt spoke of how the WorkFit training had opened her eyes to the potential of people with Down’s syndrome. Hetti amused the crowd with a story of being embarrassed when her parents had come to see her at work and spoke of the greater independence she has gained. Paul thanked Timmy Yendle from Dunelm for being the driving force behind the partnership
Environment Agency (EA) Manager James Trout appeared with his colleagues Toby and Kevin. They spoke about why the EA had become involved with WorkFit, how the partnership has developed and their plans for the future. James has been a leading advocate for WorkFit, personally arranging placements within the EA nationwide. We are extremely grateful for his continued support.
James explained how important the work of the EA is….the data they collect is worth billions of pounds to the UK economy. He gave an overview of the four positions created, to date, for WorkFit candidates at the four National Laboratory Service sites. Each of the positions had begun as work experience placements but all had progressed to paid work.
He also talked about the wider support the EA have given to WorkFit by helping to set up a partnership with the Institute of Science and Technology to provide fundraising, networking and a bespoke Laboratory Qualification tailored to the learning profile associated with Down’s syndrome. WorkFit candidate Tom, who was unfortunately unable to attend, has completed his qualification and become a member of the IST. The audience filmed a video message to congratulate him.
James detailed the benefits to employers who choose to recruit through WorkFit. He spoke of how WorkFit candidates had positively contributed to the EA’s work through their diligence and work ethic. He gave a story of Ben in Yorkshire getting in early and doing his work faultlessly, and Hamza in the South West providing accurate work that has benefited the site. James spoke positively of WorkFit throughout, saying: “Paul and the whole team are first class. We are here because we are big WorkFit supporters. The more I know the bigger supporter I become”
Toby is line manager for Tom at the South West Laboratory. He supported what James had said, commenting “the informal training that Paul provided was really helpful. It gave us a broad overview and allowed staff the opportunity to ask questions and engage with the process – the feedback from my team has been very positive”. He went onto say “Tom has a much defined process and he has exceeded my expectations”. Kevin is Tom’s work buddy at the laboratory. He outlined how Tom is treated as a normal employee, but one who manages to make life more enjoyable and therefore being a big asset to the organisation.
The conference ended with speeches from the DSA’s Chief Executive Carol Boys and Newton Abbot Mayor Councillor Ann Jones. Carol said: “I never dreamt it would be like this. WorkFit has no government funding and continues to push the barriers”. Ann said “well done on all your success and good luck to you for the future”.
The event was very moving and showed the positive benefits to employers in recruiting through WorkFit. We hope to see more employers registering in the South West in the future to continue our progress. Our thanks and appreciation goes to all the employers and candidates who spoke at the event- they are truly an inspiration to us all.
WorkFit supports people with Down’s syndrome to access meaningful work opportunities that can benefit the rest of their lives. For more information about WorkFit please contact the team on 0333 12 12 300 or email us on email@example.com
For more information visit the WorkFit website: www.dsworkfit.org.uk